America’s Oldest Problem

Not in Our Lifetimes
The Future of Black Politics
Michael C. Dawson
University of Chicago Press, $26, 212 pp.

It’s too bad Michael Dawson isn’t a better writer—or that the University of Chicago Press didn’t provide him a better, more aggressive editor. That, at least, might have made this book less of a slog. Instead, the book is turgid, larded with the jargon of academic political science, and, in the end, not terribly enlightening.

Dawson’s thesis, simply put, is that injustice persists in American society—injustice especially having to do with race, but also with economics and class—and that a revived and revitalized “black politics” is indispensable to the righting of this injustice. Black politics he defines as “African Americans’ ability to mobilize, influence policy, demand accountability from government officials, and contribute and influence American political discourse, all in the service of black interests.” But it isn’t black interests alone that are damaged by injustice or would be served by a new black politics, Dawson says. Other groups—Hispanics, Asian Americans, the poor, even the diminishing American middle class—are also affected and would be helped, as would the larger American project of creating “a just democracy.” A new black politics is needed not just for blacks, he says, but for all who value justice and genuine democracy. Why? Because “black political movements historically have formed a leading edge, in many eras the leading edge of American democratic and progressive movements.”

There can be no disputing that inequality, especially along...

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